When the Shawnee High School basketball team is down on the scoreboard, players know to throw the ball to Josh Borelli. Borelli is not only the team’s star player, but also the player most adept at overcoming adversity.
Borrelli, a senior at the Medford, N.J., school, has a condition called Mucha-Habermann, an extremely rare skin disorder that causes lesions to develop all over the body.
Borrelli developed the autoimmune disease out-of-the-blue in eighth grade.
“One day I woke up in the eighth grade and I had red lesions all over my body so I went to the doctors,” he told ABC News. “It was the first or second case he’s seen in his 40 year practice.”
According to the NIH, Mucha-Habermann strikes males more often than females and occurs more frequently in children, specifically between the ages of five to 10. Borrelli’s father told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was believed to be the only person in the country to have the disease at the time he was diagnosed.
“This disease is so rare that most dermatologists don’t see it in their entire practice,” Dr. Doris Day, clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Medical, who does not treat Borrelli, told ABC News. ”It’s something that we read about but don’t see.”
Borrelli’s own case went into remission as he entered high school, only to return at the start of his senior season. This time, his doctor ordered a new treatment in addition to his prescribed medication: daily visits to the tanning salon.
“My dad went with me the first couple of times to the tanning salon because I was a bit nervous,” he said of the first of his now-routine eight minutes per day in the tanning booth.
The treatment worked and Borrelli’s skin is now smooth, although enhanced with a Coppertone complexion. Doctors say the ultraviolet technique is so effective that Borrelli cannot miss a single day of tanning, especially since the disease can resurface at any time and cause life-threatening complications in adults.
The treatment has not hurt his basketball game. He continues to average nearly 20 points per game and is just two points shy of scoring 1,000 points in his career.
“If anything it’s probably helped,” Borrelli said. “There’s people out there worse off than I am so I’m real lucky.”
Borrelli’s year-round tan has even inspired his fans to create a tagline of their own, donning “Fear the Tan” t-shirts at the school’s basketball games.
“It’s a tough situation and it’s been very challenging for him but I’ve seen him rise to the occasion,” Borrelli’s father, David Borrelli, told ABC News.